New fossil display at Maropeng celebrates palaeontological research at Wits University

  • February 17, 2011

“In celebration of our fifth birthday, the Maropeng Visitor Centre in the Cradle of Humankind will uncover treasures of the past with a new fossil display which opens on December 2, 2010,” says Maropeng Visitor Centre Managing Director Tony Rubin. 

Treasures from the collections of the Bernard Price Institute (BPI) and Institute for Human Evolution (IHE, will be on display at the exhibition. Based at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), the BPI and IHE are at the forefront of palaeontological palaeoanthropological and archaeological research in South Africa.

The Maropeng Visitor Centre is an exciting, world-class exhibition which focuses on the development of humans and our ancestors over the past few million years. The upcoming fossil display highlights the special relationship between Maropeng and Wits. Over the last five years, Maropeng has been afforded the opportunity to showcase some pre-eminent discoveries made by Wits scientists both past and present.

Maropeng exhibitions curator Lindsay Marshall explains that this display is not to be missed, “It has something for everyone and it allows people to be exposed to different areas of research; for instance families can bring their children who are not sure of what they want to study after school.”

Visitors to the exhibition will be given the opportunity to meet “Fred”, a 260-million-year-old dinocephalian mammal-like reptile (therapsid) which is an ancestor of the hippopotamus.

Therapsids belong to the group Dinocephalia (meaning “terrible heads”) and date from the earliest time of therapsid evolution, which was about 251- to 300-million years ago. Fred is a reconstruction of a three-metre-long therapsid skeleton, the oldest known land-living reptile ever to have lived in South Africa.

Also on display will be Fred’s original skeleton which, while not being 100% complete, is “the most complete known specimen of its kind”, according to director of the BPI, Professor Bruce Rubidge, who discovered the skeleton in the Karoo in 1984.

Rubidge will open the exhibition along with Professor Francis Thackeray (Director IHE) and Dr Bernhard Zipfel (University Collections Curator).

Rubin is excited about the display: “Having Fred’s original skeleton which weighs nearly a ton at Maropeng is going to be very special,” he says.

Other specimens on display will provide insight into contemporary palaeoscientific studies. The display will include microfossils, dinosaur eggs and hominid fossils, among other things. Visitors will also be given a rare insight into the world of coprolites (fossilised animal dung). and what they are able to reveal.

According to Zipfel, the exhibition is noteworthy in that it combines an array of specimens under one roof.

“This display is significant because people will be getting a rare opportunity to see a variety of specimens from Karoo fossils, early hominid fossils and dinosaur and pre-dinosaur skeletons all in one venue,” he says.

Through this new fossil display, Maropeng will not only be giving visitors the chance to explore some of South Africa’s palaeontological heritage, it will also be highlighting the stories behind the discoveries and profiling the scientists who made them.

This display will run from December 2, 2010, to the middle of January 2011 at the Maropeng Visitor Centre.

About the Maropeng Visitor Centre:

The visitor centre has been open since 2005 and has welcomed more than one million visitors to learn about humankind’s heritage in the past five years.

The exhibition is self-guided and takes between one and seven hours to pass through, depending on the visitor’s level of interest and time availability. It is highly interactive and enjoyable, and will engage visitors of all ages. The fossil display is one of the many family activities happening at Maropeng over the festive season. Further details about holiday events can be found on the Maropeng website .

About the Cradle of Humankind:
The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and Dinokeng are initiatives of the Gauteng Provincial Government to establish geo-spatial tourism destinations in the north-west and the north-east of the province, close to the densely populated metropolitan areas of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni.

The Cradle of Humankind is one of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa, and the only one in Gauteng. It is widely recognised as the place from which all of humankind originated.

About Sterkfontein Caves

Just around the corner from the Maropeng Visitor Centre, the world-renowned Sterkfontein Caves is home to the oldest and most continuous palaeontological dig in the world. It is also the site of discovery of the famous pre-human skull affectionately known as “Mrs Ples”, and an almost complete hominid skeleton called “Little Foot”, dated 2.3- and 4.17-million years old respectively.

About the Bernard Price Institute

With the aim of collecting and interpreting Southern Africa’s fascinating fossil heritage, the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research is one of the foremost research institutes in the country. The institute is based at Wits and forms part of the School of Geosciences in the Faculty of Science.

About the Institute for Human Evolution

The Institute for Human Evolution, based at Wits, works in the area of fossil research and fieldwork in South African Plio-Pleistocene hominin fossils and non-hominin fauna from various fossil rich sites such as Sterkfontein and Swartkrans. They also do work on the on late Pleistocene archaeological sites which are linked to artefacts from the Middle Stone Age such as Blombos and Rose Cottage Cave. 

Issued by Flow PR on behalf of Maropeng.

For more information please contact:
Erica Jago
General manager
Maropeng a’ Afrika
Tel: 014-577-9000
Fax: 014-577-9200
Skype address: ericajfs

Tshililo Ragimana
Account executive
Flow PR
Tel: 011-440-4841
Fax: 086-630-9186
Skype address:tshililoragimana

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